A local musician and team have created a book on how musical activities can help children with special needs, methods for teachers

“I doubted my hyperactive son would be able to attend formal classes and cope, especially since he didn’t speak much due to his condition.

“But my sister Cindy Deborah Vyner, a music teacher, was adamant that Joshua should be sent to formal music lessons after seeing his talents.

“At that time, I had sent Joshua to a clinical psychologist at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Hospital and she only advised me to send him for speech therapy and occupational therapy.”

Sharan said it was the music lessons that really helped him to talk and communicate with others, in addition to developing his motor and musical skills.

She also sent him to musician Edwin Nathaniel’s class when she learned he was a talented, kind, and patient music teacher.

“It’s (music) now his bread and butter thanks to the guidance of his music teacher, Edwin.

“Because of the music lessons, he is able to communicate better with others and it helps with his ADHD,” she said.

Under Edwin’s guidance, Joshua completed his Year 8 exams in battery just before the Covid-19 pandemic.

He can also play guitar and piano by ear.

In 2017, Joshua and another student represented Malaysia in the Autistic Talent Gala Competition and won the Best Duo Award and the Musical Talent Appreciation Award.

He has since been composing music since the pandemic hit and also teaching his own students how to play guitar and another student how to play drums.

Joshua is now a composer and enjoys teaching music to his students.  — Photo courtesy of Sharan Vyner
Joshua is now a composer and enjoys teaching music to his students. — Photo courtesy of Sharan Vyner

Create the RISE program and put it in a book

Musician and music teacher Edwin who runs Music Mart in Petaling Jaya has been teaching children with special needs for 20 years.

Edwin, who is co-founder of the award-winning music group Aseana Percussion Unit (APU), wanted to make music lessons more accessible to others, especially people with special needs.

The musician has always reached out to those in need, such as bringing joy to cancer patients by playing songs on his ukulele or even strumming old tunes at various nursing homes.

“I wanted to make music more accessible to children with special needs, because everywhere I went I hardly saw schools incorporating music programs for these disabled children.

“And that’s when I decided to create the RISE (Rhythm Interactive Special Needs Enable) program – a book focused on musical instruments to help children with different levels of disability, including autism and Down syndrome.

“I wanted to give these kids a chance even though I know it takes a lot of patience to teach them – but I was willing to do that because music can do wonders for them,” he said.

“Not only that, the book is essential in helping teachers with various training methods such as proper warm-up activities and breathing exercises to help their students.”

Using percussion instruments and rhythms, and incorporating exercises and activities, the book aims to make learning music enjoyable and less intimidating.

With the help of Tan Swee Chuan, a professor at Sunway University, the duo spent a few years writing up Edwin’s years of experience helping children with special needs and documenting it so that others can use it as a guide.

Tan would join Edwin’s music lessons to see how the Rise program was used in music lessons and take notes to help document it in book form.

Edwin’s son, Daryll Nathaniel, also helped find research material for the book.

“The book can be used for a wide range of activities, including fun team building activities using percussion and drums.

“My goal was simple – to help marginalized groups of people learn music because I was blessed with musical talent,” Edwin said.

The book, launched last month, is priced at RM49 and will soon be available in select bookstores.

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